NEUBRANDENBURG, Germany -- Yoan Pablo Hernandez of Cuba defeated champion Steve Cunningham on a controversial split technical decision after six rounds Saturday to take the American's IBF cruiserweight title.
Referee Mickey Vann stopped the bout because of two cuts sustained by the Cuban after the fighters twice clashed heads in earlier rounds.
Two judges scored it 58-55 and 59-54 for Hernandez while another had it 57-56 for Cunningham.
Ring doctor Walter Wagner said he recommended the fight be stopped.
"The cuts weren't dangerous but the blood could have run into the eyes and affected his vision. I think the head clashes that the referee felt were accidental weren't entirely accidental. You can have different opinions there. Hernandez was at a disadvantage from the cuts, so I gave the recommendation," Wagner said.
"I was ready for 12 rounds," Hernandez said. "I led from the beginning. They were hard head clashes and head clashes are always harder than punches. I'll have to get stitches but then I'll treat myself to a cigar."
Cunningham immediately called for a rematch, saying he was "set up" and that he was still the best cruiserweight in the world.
The American was making his second title defense in his second reign as IBF champion, having lost the belt to Poland's Tomasz Adamek in 2008 before reclaiming it from Troy Ross of Canada in June 2010.
Hernandez, based in Germany the last six years, improved to 25-1 with 13 knockouts. The 35-year-old Cunningham was knocked down in the first round but got back up. His record now is 24-3 with 12 knockouts.
A technical decision happens when a fight must be stopped because of an unintentional head butt. In such cases, the referee has the option of sending the bout to the judges.
Hernandez sent Cunningham to the canvas in the first round with a left blow behind the ear. The Philadelphia native stumbled as he got up but was allowed to continue by Vann and just managed to see out the round.
"The referee counted too slowly after the knockdown. That would have been it already," Hernandez's coach Ulli Wegner said.
Cunningham kept his southpaw opponent at bay in the second, and recovered confidence in the third when the Cuban began bleeding profusely after the first clash of heads.
Hernandez suffered another cut above his right eye as Cunningham's confidence grew as he gained control in the remaining rounds but -- although more cautious -- the Cuban did not seem overly affected before Vann stepped in and asked the judges to decide.
"Pablo was clearly in the lead. He's a deserved world champion," Wegner said.